Major American Jewish organizations roundly criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over his threats at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday to cancel previous agreements with Israel, including the Oslo Accords.
“Unilateralism is not policy,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “Rejectionism is not policy. Victimization is not policy. Tragically, President Abbas is pursuing a dead-end strategy. The path to an enduring two-state accord is at the negotiating table with Israel.”
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, rejected Abbas’ insinuation of abandoning the more than 20-year-old agreements signed between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel, admonishing: “There won’t be any peace deal that is not based on the Oslo Accords and not negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Lauder — who actually met with the dogged PA president (serving the 11th year of a four-year term) earlier this month in Amman, Jordan — urged Abbas to abandon any notions of what he called a “third way,” or seeking Palestinian statehood unilaterally through external organizations, and return to negotiations with Israel.
The two American Jewish leaders were responding to remarks by Abbas before the 193-member U.N. General Assembly — where the State of Palestine, along with the Holy See, holds non-member observer status — in which he declared that the P.A. was prepared to disavow previous agreements with Israel.
“We declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, which render us an authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them,” he said, nearing the conclusion of his 40-minute address. “We, therefore, declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue and the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council last March are specific and binding.”
The practical implications of Abbas’ remarks remained vague; Palestinian officials noted shortly afterward that Abbas had not actually canceled any agreements with Israel during the speech. It seems unlikely Abbas would move to dissolve the P.A. and stop paying the salaries of more than 150,000 public employees. Still, his posturing caused concern in Israel and among Jewish groups.
Others that spoke out included B’nai Brith International, which released the following response:
The statement by Abbas shows the true face of the P.A. Abbas appropriates the trappings of statehood, refuses its obligations, and shifts these to Israel rather than engaging in genuine peacemaking with the Jewish state. Yet the P.A. cannot achieve its objectives by fiat or by manipulating the United Nations and its agencies. Abbas and his Palestinian peers must recognize Jewish statehood and respect the basic rights of Israelis if the Palestinians’ political goals are to concretely materialize.
Abbas asserted that a two-state solution requires unconditional international recognition of a Palestinian state that does not yet exist. However, he failed to acknowledge that the terrorist group Hamas, which violently seized control of the Gaza Strip from him, remains fervently committed to Israel’s destruction and continues its utterly unprovoked and indiscriminate attacks on civilian communities inside Israel.
American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen had a particularly acerbic reaction to the P.A. president’s statement: “Mr. Abbas must be taking suggestions from Hamas, because his new position is precisely what his erstwhile terrorist partners have been advocating for years. By continuing to incite violence, support terrorism and spew antisemitism, the Palestinian leadership consistently has shown it is neither interested in preserving the Oslo Accords nor achieving lasting regional stability.”
And Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League National Director, said: “Long on complaints, short on practical steps, Abbas once again showed the international community that the Palestinians remain rooted to a strategy of symbolism, obfuscation and excuses which will do little to bring benefits to average Palestinians or bring closer their goal of statehood. How sad for the Palestinian people that their leadership has spent decades engaged in a strategy so damaging to their legitimate aspirations.”
Many Palestinian political observers have noted Abbas’ position among Palestinians is tenuous at best: a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed 65% of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, and the P.A. president only has a 38% approval rating.